So… The Artist: It’s a lovely silent movie about silent movies themselves, following George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a superstar who’s distressed to realize he has no place in the emerging talkie world. As it tells this story—which also includes the meteoric rise of Valentin’s costar Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo)—it delivers some of the most imaginative and delightful scenes I’ve witnessed in ages. And because The Artist more or less follows the conventions of old silent films, it creates these moments with real-world props and ingenuity. The lack of CGI makes this film feel dazzlingly human in its magic, and that is wonderful to behold.
Early in the film, for instance, Peppy is still just a chorus girl trying to get a break. On the set of George’s latest film, she overhears some music and starts jitterbugging with abandon. (As you do.) From across the soundstage, George sees her dancing… or rather, he sees her legs. Peppy is behind a piece of scenery being wrangled by two stagehands, and as they lift it off the ground, they reveal her dancing feet, then her dancing ankles, then her dancing calves. Before he sees the rest of her, George runs up and starts matching Peppy’s steps, so we see a man dancing in perfect time with a pair of legs. It’s delightful.
And honestly, I think this scene is even more satisfying because it comes in a silent film. With only a score playing, and no “real-world sounds” to distract me, I was able to focus completely on the dancing. I was able to lose myself in it.
By the end of The Artist—which is the first silent film I’ve ever seen in a theater and one of maybe five I’ve seen in my entire life—I was intensely grateful for the special focus that soundlessness demands. I couldn’t look away from the movie for a moment because there was no chance I could follow along just by listening to dialogue as I rustled around in my backpack for a water bottle. By demanding so much of my attention, the movie created a more intimate connection, and I can’t remember the last time the act of watching a film felt so personal.
That’s interesting, since this connection is ostensibly created by 3D effects, but with a few exceptions (Avatar, Up, etc.) 3D rarely excites me. I guess my “poor theater” aesthetic has reared its head again, reminding me that I get transported further when the art I’m watching is working with less, not more.